Using yWriter for novels, short stories and blog posts

After my blog post last week on story order in assembling an anthology, I had some comments specifically about yWriter. Here's the brief introduction to the yWriter software, from the developer's website:
yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind.

yWriter is a standalone application which runs on Windows PCs. It doesn't need or use an internet connection, and all data is stored on your own computer. The only time it uses the internet is if you use the inbuilt 'check for update' routine (in which case yWriter simply reads the latest available version number from, or the 'backup to ftp' feature (in which case you have to provide the server address and login details.)

(Although yWriter was designed for novels, enterprising users have created their own translation files to customise the program to work with plays, non-fiction and even sermons.)
I love yWriter, and I guess I'm one of those "enterprising users", since I use it for a lot more than novels. It does almost everything I need, helps to keep me organized and would even help me to be more productive and a faster writer if I used all of its features. Also, the program is free, as in beer; the download is the full program, with no registration, no time limits, no expiry. (See here for an explanation of why the developer made if free).

So how do I use it to write my short stories, blog posts and novel(s)? Pictures are worth a thousand words (click on any of them to enlarge):

The file for "Blood Picnic and other stories". Each chapter has multiple "scenes" - the stories themselves. Moving them around was a snap.

My WIP, "Goodbye Grammarian". I can edit each scene's text and instantly see how long each scene & chapter is. It's easy to make background notes on characters, places and objects, to map out plotting notes and to identify which scenes are at the stage of rough draft, 1st edit, 2nd edit, line edit or completed.

Almost all of my short stories are written in yWriter. I use a new "chapter" for each year's FridayFlash stories, with each story being a new "scene". Other chapters are for conventional short stories (~4K), poems, song lyrics, non-fiction pieces and other items.

I also use yWriter to keep track of my blog posts for Write Anything, to write and keep organized interviews and guest blog posts that I've done, and to do NaNoWriMo, of which "Goodbye Grammarian" is an example.

So there you have it. As you can see, I like yWriter a lot, so much so that I went ahead and donated some money to Simon Haynes, the developer of yWriter. In fact, I'll even plug his books, the Hal Spacejock series of funny science fiction novels.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. I HATE the y-writer, but mostly because it takes more than 5 minutes to figure it out and I don't do instructions well. :)
    Actually, the biggest problem I have with it is not having any formatting after pasting it into Word. I've set up a pre-made formatted chapter shell in Word so the chapters are already formulated for printing.

  2. Laura, if you cut and paste from the scenes, you can lose a lot of the formatting - italics, bolds, fonts, etc.

    However, if you use the "Export to RTF" feature, all of that stays exactly as you have it in yWRiter.

  3. I didn't know about the export feature (don't read directions, remember?). That's good to know. Maybe I'll try it again sometime.

  4. I'm asking this seriously, not snarkily ... what does this do that I can't do in Word?

  5. Janet: Excellent question. Word will let you write, spellcheck and (using cut and paste) move things around. Assuming you don't mind scrolling back and forth among different places in a single big Word file, you can also write in a nonlinear fashion in Word as well as you can in yWriter, working on whatever scene needs it. From the writing prose standpoint, Word is fine. However, from the standpoint of organizing a big story arc and managing all the background details, Word falls short.

    yWriter will give you a 50,000 foot "storyboard" view of your file, which makes moving chunks of text much easier than select-cut-paste in Word. yWriter will also let you make detailed notes on characters, scenes and items. It will make a color-coded note of which POV each scene is in, and show you a graph of how those POV are represented across the entire book. It will record who appears in what scene, give you a report of how many scenes (or words) each character is getting, which will let you make sure that each character gets as much time in the spotlight as he or she deserves. It will let you print out a the entire file with or without unused scenes, print a list of just the chapter titles, just the scene synopses, or any combination thereof. This is great for brainstorming. You can rate each scene for action, humor, exposition, sex, or any other factor; this helps to make your pacing what it should be.

    Now, you could just have one Word file for the book and a separate set of Word (or Excel) files to keep track of all this background detail. The advantage of yWriter (or other programs such as Scrivener) is that all of these extra organizational tools are in one place.

  6. Scrivener and yWriter do many of the same things, perhaps all of them (dunno if yWriter does exports to common eBook formats). Which one you use likely depends on what OS you're running.

    One thing I'd like to see is some built-in mindmapping tools for the planning stages. It's easy enough to use Freemind for that, but there's a lot of info that could (should) be able to transfer into the organizational section of the writing tool — characters, settings, even plot elements.

    Laura, people like me put a lot of time into writing the instructions. We like when people read those too. ;-)

  7. Being a PC user, I tried a number of different programs to manage my writing:
    * Word + Excel sheets
    * StorYBook
    * Liquid Story Binder
    * programming tools

    I actually blogged about this journey before, so I won't belabor the point here.

    Since Scrivener has come out for PC (in beta), I've downloaded it and tried it out, but honestly, aside from being a big more polished, it seems pretty equivalent to yWriter in functionality. Making the transition would mean a learning curve that wouldn't be justified by what I see in the PC version.

    Mind-mapping, eh? Shoot the developed of yWriter a line, see if he has any plans for it.

  8. FARfetched - I prefer the "hammer" method to reading instructions...sorry. :)

  9. I downloaded and tried yWriter off of your recommend a while ago. I played around with it a bit, but I can't say that I enjoyed it. Part of the problem is being in a Linux environment. While I got yWriter working with Mono, the menu names are the same color as the background unless you actively have it highlighted with the mouse. I plugged through anyway but soon found that yWriter doesn't think the same way I do.

    I found celtx later on and have had better luck with that. I'm planning my NaNoWriMo entry in it and so far it fits my way of thinking better.

    I'm glad you found such a good tool for yourself though! Anything that helps your output is great for us!

  10. D. Paul: I only use PC, so I can see how this might be a bit platform-centric. Thanks for the kind words - I'll keep up the output!


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